There’s no emergency, except cowards in Congress

by Robert B. Reich

Robert B. Reich is an economist and political commentator who served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. He is currently Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
by Robert B. Reich

Twelve Republican senators joined all Democrats by voting Thursday to terminate President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration, which was issued to allow the diversion of tax dollars for construction of a wall at the southern border.

Trump has said he will issue the first veto of his presidency in response to the measure, which was approved 59-41, leaving the Senate unlikely to be able reach the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

While the slim margin means Trump may get away with the wasteful expenditure of funds on a wall, which could not possibly rectify the complex problems associated with immigration, it signals an end to representative democracy as practiced in America for 243 years.

A future Democratic president will probably declare an emergency to deal with climate change, gun control, health care or any other issues, unless the Congress preserves its power to control the purse strings.

Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing there is no legitimate emergency to justify funding for a border wall that has not been approved by Congress.

Many Republican senators said the vote was less a rejection of the president, but a protect the Constitution from executive overreach but the majority of GOP lawmakers have been cowards when it comes to Trump.

The House of Representativeslast month moved to revoke Trump’s emergency declaration in a 245-182 vote. Only 13 Republicans in the House voted to maintain Congressional control over the nation’s finances.

The declaration would let Trump tap $3.6 billion in taxpayer money to fund sections of the wall, taking that cash from the Defense Department.

Trump’s use of emergency powers is also being challenged in court, but it is unclear with whom federal judges will side because presidents have expansive emergency powers.

The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.

Twelve GOP senators, including the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended for other priorities.

“The Senate’s waking up a little bit to our responsibilities,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become “a little lazy” as an equal branch of government. “I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place.”

“This is constitutional question, it’s a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution,” Romney said. “This is not about the president,” he added. “The president can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators can express theirs.”

Thursday’s vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday’s on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even though there’s not likely to be enough numbers to override a veto, the votes nevertheless sent a message from Capitol Hill.

“Today’s votes cap a week of something the American people haven’t seen enough of in the last two years,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump.”

Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall or risk a federal government shutdown.


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